Editors and How to Choose One
By Audrey Owen
You've chosen your topic, finished your research, and done your
writing. You may even have contracted graphics and layout. You believe you
are ready to publish, and self-publishing technology, like Print on Demand or e-
book production, make it possible for you to rush in and do just that.
There's good news and bad news.
The good news is that you absolutely can publish what and
when you like.
The bad news is, so can anyone else, and discerning
buyers know that. Many are rightfully wary of self-published material.
So how do you make your work stand out in the self-publishing
You provide an excellent piece of writing and you present it
That is where the editor comes in.
It's unfair but true that you are judged not on your brilliance
at developing plot and character, your gripping descriptions, nor on your realistic
dialogue, but on your spelling and grammar.
Think of a bride all dressed for her wedding. What is most
important? I'd argue it's the character and personality of the bride. But if she
shows up with ketchup on her dress or mud on her shoes, what will everyone be
thinking through the ceremony?
You may be the most brilliant and insightful person ever to publish,
but if your writing is less than pristine, you will not sell many books. Sure, you
may be able to get a few under the radar of people who buy without chcecking
the goods, but you won't get the repeat sales. You won't get the unexpected
gold mine of unsolicited reviews. And you won't get the best recommendation of
all, word of mouth.
Trade publishers ensure that their authors produce the best works
possible by hiring editors. Every trade book you have ever read went through at
least four stages of editing.
Once someone in acquisitions decides the book has potential, an
editor does a substantive edit. The editor reads the whole manuscript
and looks for ways to improve it on a global level. Did you include all the
information you needed? Is your point clear? If it's fiction, are characters, plot,
setting and theme working together in the best possible way? The editor writes
Fix Notes tor the writer, suggesting changes. There may be several rounds of
substantive editing before moving on.
The next round involves a line edit. The editor looks at
wording, not for grammar and spelling, but for elegance and power. The editor
asks, "Is this the best possible way to say this?"
When the writer and editor agree that everything is said as well as it
possibly can be said, the work receives a copy edit. This is when the
spelling and grammar are checked.
Finally, a proofreader double-checks for spelling, grammar,
and layout issues.
With all that attention to words in the trade publishing companies, it's
no wonder that unedited self-published books come out looking like poor second
You can put your wrok in the big leagues by treating your words with
the same respect traditionally published authors treat theirs. Find a good
If you go on-line to search for editing services, you will find
thousands of choices. Some of those will be for stables of editors who work for
companies that "outsource" the work, paying the editor a percentage of the fee
they collect from the client. (The editor may get less than 50% of what you are
charged, so many stables are full of low quality editors.) How do you sort
through and find a good one?
- Does the editor belong to professional organizations? There is
no set standard for editors like there is for doctors or teachers. Anyone can call
himself an editor. Those who care about the profession band together to set
standards for themselves. Find an editor who cares enough to join.
- Does the editor offer a firm price based on your specific work?
Editors can charge by the word, by the hour, or by the job. Beware an editor
who offers to edit your book for a set fee without seeing your work. Editing is an
art as well as a science and each piece of writing is unique. Be sure the
editor sees the uniqueness of your project and its needs.
- Does the editor offer a sample edit? This will give you and the editor
a chance to see if you will work well together. Editing is a relationship
and you both should feel happy that you are working together. The sample need
not be long, but should offer the editor a good idea of what your needs as a
- Does the editor offer an educative edit? This is specific to the needs
of a self-publishing writer. In this type of editing, the editor works on a very short
section of the writer's work and goes beyond fixing and moves to explaining
why the changes are important.
The writer goes back
through the entire manuscript and uses the advice on the rest of the book. The
writer actually becomes a better writer.
Then the writer submits a
second section of work. The process goes on until the writer and editor agree
that the writer no longer needs that level of support. (A writer should not need
an educative edit on a whole book.) With an educative edit you gain a life skill
that you can take into other writing projects.
- Does the editor offer a guarantee? No one can turn a pig's ear into a
silk purse, but the editor should be able to tell you what improvements you can
- Does the editor have satisfied clients willing to give references?
When you have found the editor you want, agree on terms. You can
do that through a signed agreement, or an agreement reached on-line.
It is common for editors to ask for at least half of the payment in
advance. If the editor has given you a free sample edit, you can assume she will
come through with the final edit as a professional. She has bought credibility
with her free service and you can pay with confidence. If you have any difficulty
with the editor and the editor belongs to a reputable association, use the
association to resolve the dispute.
When you have a good editor who loves your work almost as much
as you do, you stand head and shoulders above your fellow self-publishing
artists and your writing and marketing efforts will reap all the rewards you
© 2005 Audrey Owen Used by permission. For permission to copy
or use this information, contact her through her Web site
Audrey Owen, a writer who is both self-published and published by others in
print and on-line, is an editor who specializes in working with self-publishing
authors. Her Web site,
www.writershelper.com , provides free writing tips and other information of
interest to self-publishing authors.
Editors' Association of Canada,
Federation of BC WritersÑformer
Society of Children's Book Writers and
494 Eaglecrest Drive